Pima County’s Path to Public Reassurance
By Tara Kirkpatrick
In the mess that was March, Gov. Doug Ducey had just issued the stay-home order and businesses across Tucson closed. The pain of the COVID-19 pandemic truly took hold.
Pima County and regional leadership started working on a plan forward.
“The pandemic had caused a great deal of stress and chaos for people personally,” recalled Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. “We had been in that position for a month and things were really beginning to be felt. Our view was that we needed protocols in place for when we were able to reopen. We needed to do it carefully.”
On April 21, after a Pima County Board of Supervisors meeting, the Back to Business Steering Committee was announced that would not only devise cohesive strategy for businesses to reopen, but also launch a “Ready For You” initiative to certify to the public that their favorite haunts were taking precautions to be virus-vigilant.
The steering committee, helmed by Huckelberry and University of Arizona President Dr. Robert C. Robbins, enlisted business and community leaders and county staff. Subcommittees of the larger group tackled community updates, expediting government regulation, needs of the faith community, employee wellness and overall recovery.
One key effort was to establish a framework of hygiene and social distancing norms, guided by health officials, for phased reopenings that applied to restaurants, hotels and resorts, gyms, daycare centers, personal hygiene services, attractions, theaters and event centers.
“When the public was ready to return, they needed some reassurance that they were going to visit a place that was using all the best protocols,” said Huckelberry.
The bright blue and gold “Ready For You” stickers now affixed to the doors and windows of many reopened businesses across Tucson are the emblems of their efforts. The stickers assure customers that the businesses are adhering to a baseline of health and safety measures set by Pima County, including sanitizing, social distancing, symptom checks and protective gear.
“It’s the perfect opportunity for the health department to engage with business operators to ensure they have COVID-19 protective measures in place,” said Loni Anderson, division manager for Pima County Health Department. “With trying times for everyone, we are working to educate and provide guidance as staff learn to implement the additional safety precautions.
“When you enter a business displaying the Ready For You gold check mark, you know you’re in a business that has pledged to follow these safety guidelines and is being monitored for compliance,” said Laura Shaw, SVP of Sun Corridor Inc. and chair of the Back to Business Community Updates subcommittee. Her group was charged with informing the public about the wide-ranging efforts.
“Our goals for this campaign and messaging were very clear: this community is a safe place to do business together, we take our health and well-being seriously by following science-based practices to stop the spread of COVID-19. Pima County is the voice of authority and central place to go for our latest information and regulations,” Shaw said.
Flores Concepts, which runs the El Charro and Charro Vida restaurants among others, not only displays the Ready For You stickers, but created their own 100-point safety plan for employees.
“COVID is the biggest bump in the road that anyone in business could have ever imagined and our family quickly responded with our own plan in the beginning,” said Ray Flores. “I think the Ready For You program doubles down and backs us up. It gives the public something to consider when navigating where to eat.”
“We have an amazing restaurant community in Tucson,” added Flores. “While we remain competitive, we are a family. Many of my competitors work with me on a daily basis to communicate best practices. Without our guests, we have no business.”
Flores commended Pima County for also offering ServSafe, a national food safety training course, for free to area restaurants though its online portal. Maricopa County did not offer that, he said. “I give them huge gratitude for making this possible. That’s the No. 1 thing that has come out of all of this is that I think there is understanding that restaurants want to be in compliance. They want to serve people safely.”
He added that, at press time, no COVID-19 outbreaks were tied to restaurants here. “Restaurants in Pima County have an amazing track record of food safety since way before COVID.”
In addition to the steering committee, Pima County also worked with Downtown Tucson Partnership to offer two types of grants to downtown businesses. One program provided up to $5,000 to expand or enhance their outdoor seating areas. The other helped offset businesses’ costs to reopen under new safety guidelines. Both grants were funded by the federal CARES Act.
The owners of 1055 Brew Pub received a grant and constructed a new outdoor café in their front parking spaces. Urban Fresh, Raptor Canyon Café and Café 54 combined their grants to create the Pennington Street Outdoor Food Court. DTP also helped distribute personal protective equipment to downtown businesses, acted as a liaison through the Ready For You certification process and has developed a reopening campaign for October.
“This is changing the face of downtown,” said Kathleen Eriksen, CEO of Downtown Tucson Partnership. “Twenty-two Outdoor Café grants have been approved. All these cafes are creating vitality on our streets with great visual interest. Pima County has been a huge supporter of downtown for many years…but their level of partnership throughout the pandemic has been unsurpassed. We are so grateful to them.”